The mysterious tale of Charles Dickens’s raven

Grip from Dicken's fifth novel, Barnaby Rudge
Grip from Dicken’s fifth novel, Barnaby Rudge, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2012, the Tower of London welcomed two new inhabitants: a pair of ravens named Jubilee and Grip. Their arrival celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth. This Grip was the third of the Tower ravens to be named after the novelist’s own pet bird. One of his predecessors was resident during World War Two; he and his mate Mabel were the only ravens to survive a bombing attack on the Tower.

Dickens’s Grip, who had an impressive vocabulary, appears as a character in the author’s fifth novel, Barnaby Rudge. On 28 January 1841, Dickens wrote to his friend George Cattermole: “my notion is to have [Barnaby] always in company with a pet raven, who is immeasurably more knowing than himself. To this end I have been studying my bird, and think I could make a very queer character of him.”

Unfortunately, just a few weeks after Dickens wrote that letter, Grip died, probably as a result of having stolen and eaten paint some months earlier. The bird had developed a strange habit – tearing sections off painted surfaces (including the family’s carriage) and even drinking a quantity of white paint out of a tin. Dickens mourned his loss and wrote a wryly humorous letter to his friend, the illustrator Daniel Maclise, about the raven’s death. […]

First published on BBC Culture on 20th August 2015. Read full article online.